Record fleet expected

For the annual Block Island Race this weekend

Friday May 24th 2002, Author: Keith Taylor, Location: United States
Prospects for an elapsed time record loom large this weekend as the biggest sail racing fleet in the last 14 years sets out tomorrow from Stamford on the Storm Trysail Club's annual Block Island Race.

Preliminary weather forecasts promise strong winds and fast sailing that could bring the big boats home in record time. Competing in ten classes, 86 boats will race the 185 nautical miles from Stamford, out of Long Island Sound, clockwise around Block Island and back. It is the biggest fleet to start since 91 boats raced in 1988. The all-time record was 172 boats in 1972.

For many of the bigger boats racing this weekend, the sprint around Block Island is a warm-up for the Newport to Bermuda classic in June.

George Coumantaros' 80-foot Frers-designed maxi yacht Boomerang, from New York, is the scratch boat and will be shooting to regainthe record she lost in 1998 by less than three minutes to Hasso Plattner's Reichel/Pugh maxi Morning Glory steered by America's Cup winner Russell Coutts.

Plattner's record is 19 hours 14 minutes 9 seconds. Coumantaros had set the record two years before that with Boomerang.

With the current boat, built at Eric Goetz Custom Sailboats in Bristol, RI, Coumantaros has set and holds the records in Britain's famous 605-mile Fastnet Race in 1999, and in the 635-mile Newport to Bermuda Race in 1996.

The 80-year-old Coumantaros faces keen competition for first-to-finish honors from the five other boats in IMS Racing Class One. Among them, Richard Breeden's 75-foot Reichel/Pugh-designed Bright Star from Greenwich, CT, has a history of breaking ocean racing records. Another boat and crew familiar with podium places is Bob Towse's 65-foot Reichel/Pugh racer Blue Yankee from Stamford, CT. Like Coumantaros, both skippers are Block Island Race veterans.

"It's going to be close to record breaking weather for the big boats," said Ken Campbell, president and chief forecaster for Commanders' Weather in Nashua, NH. Campbell's company is providing custom predictions for a number of boats in the race. "A cold front is coming through the first evening, with good pressure behind the front, probably 20 to 25 knots. The big boats should be able to sail with the northwesterly winds for five, six or seven hours. The
tricky part will be late on the return run Saturday morning when the northwester dies and clocks into the northeast and east. With holes in the wind, and the possibility of a sea breeze, there will be some tough tactical decisions to make - favouring the Long Island shore or the Connecticut shore as they make their way to the finish. There is also another storm coming which will bring increasing south east and southerly winds late on Saturday and Saturday night".

In all, 40 boats will race in five classes rated under the International Measurement System [IMS], while another 46 will compete in five Performance Handicap Racing Fleet [PHRF] classes.

Seven J/44 racer/cruisers, racing boat for boat, will comprise one of the PHRF Classes, while another PHRF class will feature seven boats racing double-handed, with just a skipper and crew.

"For us the Block Island Race is a great warmup for the Bermuda Race," said Jim Bishop, Jamestown, RI, president of the J/44 Class and skipper of Gold Digger. Fourteen J/44s have entered that race. "Most of our one-design racing involves short day races, with the owner driving all the time. For the Bermuda Race we'll go to watch systems and the Block Island event is a good way to settle everyone into their jobs".

The race will begin at 'The Cows' bell buoy off Stamford Harbor, tomorrow Friday. The classes will start at ten minute intervals, with the first start at 5:00 pm. The finish line will be between the breakwaters marking the entrance to Stamford Harbor.

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